Winnie the Pooh: Examining the Value of Fantasy in Children’s Literature By: Meryl Koh
This paper discusses the value of the use of fantasy in Children’s Literature, using A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh as its primary text. In this paper, I proposed that both fantasy and Children’s Literature were marginalized genres in the world of ‘serious’ literary academia. I then sought to demonstrate the value of fantasy in Children’s Literature. In the first section of my essay, I introduced the concept of fantasy as having elements of reality in it by using background research on the context and conceptualisation of Winnie-The-Pooh to prove how the origins of fantasy are rooted in reality, defending fantasy against the argument of it being a betrayal of life. By proving that fantasy had its roots in reality, I also sought to lay the foundation for the second section of my essay, which needed to show that fantasy was grounded in reality to be able to make the argument that it serves to educate the child reader.
Thus, in the second section of the essay, I proceeded to discuss the use of fantasy in children’s literature as an effective mode of writing to engage the attention of the inexperienced reader in an effort to educate and inculcate values in him or her, and educating the child reader on ways to handle problems in real life by encouraging the use of creativity and imagination. In this section, I argued that rather than spoiling a child and leaving him or her ill-equipped for reality, fantasy in children’s literature is necessary to entertain and keep the attention of the child reader, in order for him or her to continue reading the text so as to allow the text to perform its pedagogical purposes. I also explained how Milne’s imposing of human characteristics on his animal characters made it easier for a child to identify with the characters, and thus more able to learn from their interactions with each other.
In the third section, I explored the concept of the fantasy space as one that gives a child agency by empowering him or her within that realm, allowing him or her to learn how to exercise power and control by identifying with the empowered child figure within the narrative. I acknowledged that this power given to the child was ultimately controlled by the adult, but addressed it as a necessary regulation in order to provide a safe space for the child to experiment with control, but not misuse it. In the same section, I also explored the idea of the destabilisation of language and how this served as a form of questioning the rules that govern an adult’s world, taking away the knowledge that they have acquired, and in relation empowering the child by putting the adult, whom is usually seen as superior, on the same level as him or her.
The last section of my essay brought up feminist criticisms of Winnie-The-Pooh to support the point that fantasy in literature brings up issues that are serious enough for adult consideration as well, and how the use of fantasy in children’s literature ironically provides a better space to explore such issues as it hides behind the guise of being innocent and simplistic, yet contains a complexity within it that requires further thought and exploration. By using a feminist reading of the text as an example, I highlighted the point that what appears simple on the surface can offer a different perspective when re-read again, showing how fantasy in children’s literature should not be marginalized as a genre and classified as being simple and non-serious.
The research done for this paper has sought to defend reasons why fantasy in children’s literature does not deserve to be marginalized as a genre, proving its literary value by citing reasons such as pedagogical purposes, new perspectives and agency as points of support. However, for the purpose of this essay, I have argued mainly in support of the adult-child relationship, in which the adult controls the power invested in the child by writing the text and deciding how much power to allocate the child figure within the narrative. In this aspect, I believe that more research could be done to examine more closely this relationship between the adult and child — the effects that such control could have, how fair it is for an adult to play ‘God’, examining the role of the parent and by what measure he or she uses to choose which text to purchase for the child, and the other ways besides destabilization of language to be evidence of how this power dynamic can be reversed.
Overall, this essay has demonstrated how “a work of fantasy compels a reader into a metaphorical state of mind”, allowing more room for imagination and by association, more insights and perspectives. The creation of a fantasy space opens up the mind to more than just literal-minded readings, and provides more room for exploration for the author as well. Thus, fantasy in children’s literature does contain literary value that is worthy of adult consideration, and to marginalize the genre for being simplistic would make one appear “Foolish and Deluded” indeed.